Spy agencies warn Turkish president of assassination attempt during Bosnia visit

Erdogan and CavusogluA number of European intelligence agencies have reportedly warned the Turkish government of a possible assassination attempt against the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, during an official state visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina. On Sunday the Turkish leader embarked on a week-long visit to the Balkans, beginning with Bosnia, which along with Albania is seen as Turkey’s strongest political ally in Europe. During his visit to Bosnia, Mr. Erdoğan is scheduled to meet with Bakir Izetbegovic, one of the country’s three presidents. He is also scheduled to address a rally of expatriate Turks in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, held in support of his ruling Justice and Development Party.

On Saturday night, Turkey’s state-owned TRT broadcaster reported that the Turkish president’s delegation had been warned about a possible assassination attempt against him. According to TRT, the information came initially from the intelligence services of the Republic of Macedonia, another state of the former Yugoslavia, which, like Bosnia, has a large Muslim population. Turkish intelligence were reportedly warned that a group of militant opponents of Mr. Erdoğan living in the Balkans were planning to kill him, said the report. It was allegedly followed by similar warnings issued by unnamed “Western intelligence agencies”. TRT did not provide further details about the alleged plot, but said that an “in-depth investigation” was underway by Turkish intelligence.

The Turkish president is facing one of the most direct challenges of his political career in less than two weeks, when Turks will go to the polls to elect a new parliament and —potentially— a new president. Some political commentators believe that, come June 2, Mr. Erdoğan may be removed from power after 15 years in the country’s leadership. But members of his government appeared unphased. One of them, Deputy Prime Minister Bakir Bozdag, tweeted on Saturday that warnings about Mr. Erdoğan’s life were “not new, and have always been there. Our President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not a person who will be afraid of the threats and change his policy”, wrote Mr. Bozdag. And he continued: “Those, who have not understood that yet, are fools”.

Author:  Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 May 2018 | Permalink

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NATO obtained Soviet Novichok nerve agents through German intelligence in 1990s

Sergei SkripalSome North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member states obtained access to the Soviet Union’s so-called ‘Novichok’ nerve agents in the 1990s, through an informant recruited by German intelligence, according to reports. NATO countries refer to ‘Novichok-class’ nerve agents to describe a series of weaponized substances that were developed by the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia from the early 1970s to at least 1993. They are believed to be the deadliest nerve agents ever produced, but Moscow denies their very existence. A type of Novichok agent, described by British scientists as A234, is said to have been used in March of this year by the person or persons who tried to kill Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England. Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who spied for Britain in the early 2000s and has been living in England ever since he was released from a Russian prison in 2010.

On Thursday, two German newspapers, Die Süddeutsche Zeitung and Die Zeit, and two regional public radio broadcasters, WDR and NDR, said that the NATO alliance has had access to the chemical composition of Novichok nerve agents since the period immediately following the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Specifically, the reports claimed that the access was gained through a Russian scientist who became an informant for the German Federal Intelligence Service, known as the BND. The scientist struck a deal with the BND: he provided the spy agency with technical information about the Novichok agents in exchange for safe passage to the West for him and his immediate family. Initially, the German government was reluctant to get its hands on material that was —and remains— classified as a weapon of mass destruction by international agencies. But eventually it asked for the chemical composition of the Novichok nerve agents and even acquired samples from the Russian informant.

According to media reports, the BND proceeded to share information about the chemical composition of the Novichok nerve agents with key NATO allies, including Sweden, France, Britain and the United States. The sharing of such a sensitive substance was approved by the then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, said the reports. In the following years, a handful of NATO countries proceeded to produce what media reports described as “limited quantities” of Novichok agents, reportedly in order to experiment with various defense measures against them and to produce antidotes. Russia has denied accusations that it was implicated in Skripal’s poisoning and has argued that other countries, some of them NATO members, have the capacity to produce Novichok agents.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 May 2018 | Permalink

Russia tried to kill ex-double spy because he trained Eastern European agencies

Sergei SkripalRussia may have made the decision to kill former double spy Sergei Skripal because he continued to provide counterintelligence assistance to Eastern European governments, according to media reports from Prague. Skripal, 66, a veteran military intelligence operative who spied for Britain in the early 2000s, has been living in England since 2010. He was recently released from hospital after he was poisoned with what London claims was a military-grade nerve agent. As soon as Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, fell critically ill in March of this year, some observers expressed skepticism at the suggestion that Moscow may have tried to assassinate the former double spy. Their argument was that Skripal was pardoned by the Kremlin in a spy-swap deal, in which ten Russian intelligence operatives were handed over to Moscow in exchange for four agents of United States and British intelligence organizations.

Typically a spy who has been pardoned as part of an authorized spy-swap will not need to worry about being targeted by the agency that he betrayed. If it indeed tried to kill Skripal, Russia may therefore have broken the unwritten rules of the espionage game, some argued. But according to the reputable Czech investigative newsmagazine Respekt, the Kremlin tried to kill Skripal because he broke the rules of his release, namely that he would not participate in any intelligence-related activities against Russia. Specifically, Respekt claimed on Sunday that Skripal traveled extensively in Eastern Europe, where he advised local intelligence agencies on how to defend against Russian espionage. According to the Prague-based newsmagazine, Skripal’s travels to countries like the Czech Republic and Estonia were facilitated by the British Secret Intelligence Service (known commonly as MI6). The British agency thus killed two birds with one stone, said Respect: on the one hand it cultivated friendly relations with Eastern European spy agencies, while at the same time it provided the out-of-work Russian defector with a steady income.

Skripal’s information was at times dated, said Respekt, but it was deemed valuable enough to entice intelligence officers from Estonia, the Czech Republic, and possibly other European intelligence agencies, to regularly travel to the United Kingdom and further-consult with Skripal. Skripal’s contacts with Eastern European intelligence personnel were kept strictly secret in order to protect him from the ire of the Kremlin. But Moscow found out about Skripal’s activities somehow, and decided to kill the former double spy, said Respekt. The Russian government has vehemently denied all allegations that it was behind an attempt to kill Skripal and his daughter.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 May 2018 | Permalink

Hamas accuses Mossad of assassinating Palestinian engineer in Malaysia

Fadi al-Batsh Fadi AlbatshMilitants in the Gaza Strip have accused Israel of assassinating a Palestinian engineer based in Malaysia, who was shot dead on Saturday by unknown assailants riding motorcycles. The victim has been identified as Dr. Fadi M. al-Batsh, 35, from the town of Jabalia in the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian enclave controlled by the militant group Hamas. Al-Batsh is believed to have completed undergraduate and Master’s degrees in electrical engineering at the Islamic University of Gaza. In 2011 he enrolled as a PhD student at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, from where he subsequently received his doctorate in electrical engineering. He was then employed as a lecturer by the University of Kuala Lumpur’s British Malaysian Institute. The Institute is located in the Jalan Gombak neighborhood of the Malaysian capital, where al-Batsh lived with his wife and three children. Some reports from Israel said that al-Batsh worked on drone technology and that he had authored scientific articles on the development of drone technology, as well as on the technical specifications of transmitters used to remotely control drones.

Local reports said al-Batsh was gunned down at around 6:00 a.m. on Saturday morning as he was walking from his home to a nearby mosque for early-morning prayers. Footage taken from nearby security cameras shows that al-Batsh was shot by two men riding on a large BMW 1100cc motorcycle, who waited for him to arrive at the scene for at least 20 minutes before opening fire. Malaysian police said the Palestinian man was pronounced dead at the scene, having sustained wounds from 14 bullets in the chest and head. A subsequent report by local police authorities said the incident was being treated as a “targeted killing”, not as a terrorist attack, because the assassins appeared to focus solely on al-Batsh while ignoring several bystanders that were present.

Shortly after al-Batsh’s killing some reports identified him as a relative of Khaled al-Batsh, a senior official in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. A subsequent statement published by Hamas-affiliated media said al-Batsh was a commander in the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing. The militant group described him as a “loyal member” and called him a “shahid” (martyr), who was “assassinated by the hand of treachery”. The Gaza-based group also vowed retaliation against Israel and the Mossad intelligence agency.

Malaysian authorities said on Sunday that they did not rule out anything, including the possibility that al-Batsh may have been killed by militants belonging to the Islamic State. Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, said that the possible involvement of “foreign agents” in al-Batsh’s killing was also being looked at. He added that the two main suspects behind the killing were believed to be “white, European-looking men”. On Monday, Malaysian police released facial composites of the two suspects, based on eyewitness testimonies. An accompanying press release said the two suspects were “around 1.80 meters tall, well built, had fair complexions, and were believed to be of Middle Eastern or Western descent”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 April 2018 | Permalink | Research credit: R.B. and C.F.

Russian ex-spy sees link between Skripal and GCHQ officer found dead in 2010

Boris KarpichkovA former officer in the Soviet KGB, who now lives in the United Kingdom, is to be questioned by British police after alleging that there is a link between the recent poisoning of Sergei Skripal and the mysterious death of a British intelligence officer in 2010. There has been extensive media coverage in the past month of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a Russian former military intelligence officer who spied for Britain in the early 2000s and has been living in England since 2010. Nearly every European country, as well as Canada, Australia and the United States, expelled Russian diplomats in response to the attack on the Russian former spy, which has been widely blamed on the Kremlin.

But eight years ago, another mysterious attack on a spy in Britain drew the attention of the world’s media. Gareth Williams, a mathematician in the employment of Britain’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ, had been seconded to the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Britain’s external intelligence agency, to help automate intelligence collection. He had also worked with United States agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. But his career came to an abrupt end in August 2010, when he was found dead inside a padlocked sports bag at his home in Pimlico, London. It remains unknown whether his death resulted from an attack by assailants.

Last weekend, however, Boris Karpichkov, a former intelligence officer in the Soviet KGB and its post-Soviet successor, the FSB, said that Williams was killed by the Russian state. Karpichkov, 59, joined the KGB in 1984, but became a defector-in-place for Latvian intelligence in 1991, when the Soviet Union disintegrated. He claims to have also spied on Russia for French and American intelligence. In 1998, carrying two suitcases filled with top-secret Russian government documents, and using forged passports, he arrived with his family in Britain, where he has lived ever since. In an interview with the British tabloid newspaper The Sunday People, Karpichkov said that Williams was killed by Russian intelligence operatives with an untraceable poison substance, because he had discovered the identity of a Russian agent within his agency, the GCHQ. According to Karpichkov, Williams had befriended the mole, codenamed ORION by the Russians, and had realized that he was working for the Russians. The mole then allegedly told his Russian handler, a non-official-cover officer with an Eastern European passport, codenamed LUKAS, that Williams had grown suspicious. Read more of this post

Syria sought out and assassinated American journalist, former spy says

Marie ColvinThe Syrian government tracked down and killed American journalist Marie Colvin in order to stop her from reporting about the Syrian Civil War, according to a Syrian intelligence officer who has defected to Europe. Colvin was an experienced war correspondent who worked for The Sunday Times. The British newspaper sent her to Syria soon after the outbreak of the war. From there, she gave live interviews to media outlets such as CNN and the BBC. But on the morning of February 22, 2012, Colvin was killed along with French war photographer Remi Ochlik. Their death came when Syrian government forces repeatedly shelled a media center in the city of Homs, which housed the two reporters.

In 2016, the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability filed a lawsuit against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, claiming that Colvin’s death was deliberate and wrongful. The lawsuit is supported by Colvin’s family in the United States. Court records unsealed on Monday include a sworn testament by a Syrian former intelligence officer who has defected and now lives under a new identity in an undisclosed European country. The defector, codenamed ULYSSES, said that Colvin was assassinated by the Assad government as part of a concerted effort to hunt down Western journalists and local media correspondents. The ultimate purpose of the plan was to hinder international reporting about the war. The plan was allegedly carried out by the Syrian military under the guidance of the country’s Military Intelligence Directorate. Many of the reporters targeted for assassination were reporting from the city of Homs, where Colvin was killed.

According to ULYSSES, Syrian government forces began targeting the Homs media center after they found out that foreign journalists had managed to enter the city’s western sector from nearby Lebanon. They then employed a mobile satellite interception system to capture the journalists’ communications, which in turn revealed their precise location. At that point, Syrian troops were ordered to fire several missiles at the building housing the journalists, in full knowledge that Colvin and Ochlik were inside. In his testimony, ULYSSES claimed that Syrian intelligence officials “celebrated” when they were told that Colvin had been killed. He identified eight senior Syrian officials who he said were involved in planning the American journalist’s alleged assassination. One of them, said ULYSSES, was Maher al-Assad, President Assad’s brother, who leads the 4th Armored Division of the Syrian Army, considered as one of the staunchest pro-government parts of the Syrian military. Testimonies in the case continue this week.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 April 2018 | Permalink

Britain looking to resettle poisoned Russian spy to the United States, says source

Sergei SkripalThe British government may relocate Sergei Skripal, the Russian double spy who appears to have survived an assassination attempt in England, to the United States, in an effort to protect him from further attacks. The BBC reported last week that Skripal, who had been in a critical condition for nearly a month, was “improving rapidly”. Skripal, 66, who spied for Britain in the early 2000s, and has been living in England since 2010, was poisoned with what London claims was a military-grade nerve agent. Nearly every European country, as well as Canada, Australia and the United States, expelled Russian diplomats in response to the attack on the Russian former spy. His daughter, Yulia, who is 33, also came down with nerve-agent poisoning on the same day as her father, but appears to have survived.

The London-based newspaper The Sunday Times said yesterday that British government officials are exploring the possibility of resettling Skripal and his daughter in an allied country. The paper claimed that the countries being considered for possible relocation belong to the so-called “Five Eyes” agreement (also known as UKUSA), a decades-old pact between intelligence agencies from Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Canada and the United States. The Times quoted “an intelligence source” familiar with the negotiations allegedly taking place between the British government and its UKUSA partners. The source reportedly told the paper that the Skripals “will be offered new identities”, but did not elaborate on how they would avoid attention after their images were published by every major media outlet in the world following last month’s incident in England.

The anonymous source told The Times that “the obvious place to resettle [the two Russians] is America because they are less likely to be killed there and it is easier to protect them there under a new identity”. The paper also reported that Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6, is holding discussions with its American counterpart, the Central Intelligence Agency, about resettling the Skripals on American soil. But an article published on Sunday in another British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, said that senior government officials in the United States are now worried that Russian defectors and former spies living there may not be safe. The paper quoted an unnamed “senior US administration official” as saying that Washington has “massive concerns” that US-based Russians who have spied for America, or have publicly criticized the Kremlin, could be targeted just like Skripal. The Times said it contacted the British Foreign Office seeking to confirm whether the Skripals would be relocated abroad, but did not get a response.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 9 April 2018 | Permalink